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Web Design

2001-04-24 19:31:23+00 by Dan Lyke 14 comments

I'm frustrated. I talked with a friend about a web page he's doing, expressed my distaste for certain traits that have been foisted of on us by graphic designers at the expense of usability, he agreed, but said that he needed to do that because it's what people expect. How have the graphic designers infiltrated our conversations in such a way that we feel we need to insert them in our information flow when most everyone in that process thinks that they detract from the actual information exchanged?

[ related topics: Web development ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment made: 2001-04-24 20:42:25+00 by: Jette [edit history]

Speaking as a graphic designer (well, I was one for awhile, anyway), I'm wondering if you could please be more specific with your nouns? Could you share some examples of these traits? (Graphic designers get very frustrated too by the ways in which we must deal with HTML.)

#Comment made: 2001-04-25 00:59:54+00 by: OnceShy [edit history]

Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated. And I've got the pictures to prove it.

Theory: people who are "visual thinkers" (whatever the hell that means) respond to graphic intensive pages even when it seems to more concrete "logical thinkers" (same comment) that the graphics interrupt the information flow.

No proof. Just musing.


#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:36+00 by: Dan Lyke

More specific (but still as unfairly inflammatory):

First off, let's call a spade a shovel: The point of graphic design as implemented in dead-trees magazines and advertiser supported web pages is to confuse the user. Advertisers want the line between content and ad blurred, and because ads want to be bright and shiny and attract attention, the rest of the document needs to be as well.

Unfortunately, this attitude is often carried over into company information web sites.

So, the sins I've seen recently:

  1. Graphic designers not developing a consistent visual grammar for links, or even when they do using too many different types. Thus we've got the standard text links, and then we'll have one or more additional visual cues for buttons. Sometimes we won't even get visual cues, the buttons will simply have yet another color of text on them and we're then forced to play "King's Quest", clicking on everything 'til we find the links.
  2. Unless they've attempted to learn information design, graphics designers should not be allowed to do anything involved with site navigation. Recently I saw some materials handed off to a designer, a baroque and screen space hungry design came back. It used the standard navigation tabs across the top, ie: "Our Company", "Our Products", etc, and down the left side it had the sub-sections of each of those sections... except that in more than a few places clicking on a link on the right actually changed the position in the links across the top. Oh yeah, that'll keep the users interested, "where the hell did that link I saw a moment ago go?"
  3. Extension of the "don't let graphic designers tell which pages exist in a web site": Entrance tunnels. And you'd think that'd be enough said, except that even from designers who eschew entrance tunnels we see menus. When a user types in a URL they're looking for information. Immediately give them something that they'll immediately see as relevant to their quest. If they come to a company web site, chances are they're interested in the company's products. They should not, therefore, have to click yet again to begin their search.
  4. The "visual thinkers" thing is true, but the division is not where people thing it is. In my user testing I find over and over that non-computer-savvy users don't want all that visual crap either. They get easily confused and have to spend extra time reading the page to try to find the links that they're looking for. Simply, graphic designers and art directors (and architects) are visual thinkers, not logical consistent thinkers. Everyone else thinks it looks cool, and thinks that web sites are just hard to use.

The real problem is that we get some marketing materials written by marketing people, or by techies posing as marketing people, and they pass this off to a designer who says "I get paid more if it looks like I did a lot of work", and the company gets back some baroque gilded monster.

Finally, as a great fantastic example of the way web graphic design should be done, see Google. I submit that it's not just their search capabilities that let them take the search engine space from entrenched brands.

#Comment made: 2001-04-25 20:19:53+00 by: Jon C. Allen [edit history]

Dan, it seems to me you are simply referring to "bad graphic design" or a client-dictatorship version of graphic design, not graphic designers in general.

I don't consider myself a web designer (I design movie posters printed on the "dead trees" you mentioned), but to suggest I, or any other graphic/web designer, have no regard or "right" to address usuability issues with regards to the web is complete IT-centric crap.

I agree with some of the points you make, but again, you are generalizing graphic design.

Bottom line, it's hard to take advice on visual grammer and usability from someone using blue text links and black type against a dark green background on their mastehead/front page.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:36+00 by: Dori

Bottom line, it's hard to take advice on visual grammer and usability from someone using blue text links

Interesting. I get purple text links, for both visited and unvisited sites. In fact, it's one of the things about Flutterby that most drives me up the wall--I can't see at a glance which links I've visited already.

Okay, yeah, looking at the code, they're slightly different shades: "#000088" for visited and "#330088" for unvisited, but my monitor just doesn't show them as distinct colors.

I wish Flutterby would just let me use my browser's defaults ("#6600CC" for visited, "#0000FF" for unvisited).

Backup Brain

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:36+00 by: Dan Lyke

Dori: Set your preferences on the Flutterby site (link on the upper left hand corner of every link) back to "plain".

And yes, I need to fix the link colors. that sounds like something I need to dive on right now actually. I think I originally laid out my color schemes on a very expensively calibrated monitor on a SGI box, which, of course, has nothing in common with the rest of the world.

Jon: I'm not talking about client dictated design, in general the clients have been told (wrongly, IMHO), that they need all the pretty pages and haven't been told that they need real information design.

There are extremely competent web designers out there. And often that overlaps with competent graphic designers. But unfortunately we've got a lot of really good visual artists calling themselves graphic designers when in truth they understand very little to nothing about design.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:36+00 by: Dori

Dori: Set your preferences on the Flutterby site (link on the upper left hand corner of every link) back to "plain".

It had been set to "Black on white" so I tried "Plain black on white" after reading your suggestion, above.

It doesn't make any difference with the link colors, but I did find out that I had been missing a bunch of information in your right-hand table, which had previously been obscured because the background color was the same color as the link.

So, if I leave it on "Plain black on white", what, if anything, will I be missing?

Backup Brain

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:36+00 by: Gary Culpepper

All graphic design works within the constraints of the medium for which it was designed. I have worked in the field since 1974. I have seen the cost of "comping" a simple print layout drop from several hundred dollars to the price of a cheap dinner for two at a fast-food restaurant. So what happens when infinite resources and spot graphics are placed into the hands of people with no experience? We end up with pastiches of what used to be called "clip art" (check any local Goodwill for archaic examples of these books). This of course extends beyond the usual Geocities-style atrocities into sites which purport to represent the state of the art in web commerce.

Frankly, very few designers have a clue. The truly ambitious might begin with D. B. Updike's works on typography and work down from this point (keeping lowball considerations of the current possibilites of web typography in mind). The keywords are simplicity, accessibility, and download times, in that approximate order.

Is it new? Is it original? Does it contain some element of the latest technology? And most of all, do these things matter? The answers are no, of course, as any designer with a sense of the progression of graphic design understands.

The kernel to any web design, of course, should be accessible to any being enabled by a computer and internet access. What we expect from these "designers", I believe is a bit much considering the explosion of advanced and platform-specific tools into naive hands. One might envision this entire period of new accessibility of tools and audience as an early form of folk art, sort of like the craze for woodburning techniques a century past.

Of course the experienced designers are objecting! This does not mean that this quilting of the web with Photoshop trash and Javascript junk will end anytime soon. Eh! Get ready for more of the same, served up in an ever-increasing and bandwidth-hogging extravaganza!

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:37+00 by: Dan Lyke

Dori: I really meant "default", but I think I've fixed the colors (although Opera's showing something completely garish for the default settings...). Right now the fancy and plain are the same, I keep hoping to have time to do some Flash animation for the fancy, but haven't. Once again, Flutterby gets the short shrift. I need to learn

Gary: Total agreement. And I think I can revise most of my complaint to thinking that people realize that real design is important, but are unable to separate signal from noise.

And for those of you who want to know "what the hell is a shrift anyway?", it's

  1. The act of shriving.
  2. Confession to a priest.
  3. Absolution given by a priest.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:37+00 by: Dori

I really meant "default", but I think I've fixed the colors (although Opera's showing something completely garish for the default settings...).

Right now, in my browser, the default version shows my default link colors. The b on w and the plain b on w both show your link colors.

Right now the fancy and plain are the same

In general, or just regarding link colors? The latter, yes. The right-hand table has some background cell colors in the fancy, and they're the same color as the links, which obscures the links.

Something you did did change the page width, though, so I no longer have to scroll around horizontally to see your page (my #2 biggest previous complaint). Thanks!!!

I keep hoping to have time to do some Flash animation for the fancy, but haven't. Once again, Flutterby gets the short shrift. I need to learn

Jeez, why Flash? Hey, if you consider using JavaScript instead, feel free to borrow this script.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:37+00 by: Dan Lyke

I thought plain and fancy were the same everywhere, I guess I need to sit back down and try to develop an overall reasonable color scheme again, 'cause what I've got has morphed between a few, and I'm now running two disparate content systems to keep the site updated.

I was pretty vehemently trying to avoid specifying any page width, the only thing I specify is that right hand "new comments on" box, although I do need to come up with some more content for that side so it doesn't just peter off after a little bit.

By the way, what gamma are you running? 1.8? And any idea if the Mac is doing a quantization step before the gamma correction that might be causing some wonky aliasing with colors? I need to go double-check what I've got my various systems configured at...

Finally: Why Flash? 'cause it's more widely deployed and more stable than JavaScript, and 'cause turning off JavaScript isn't just for Netscape and IE platform stability (seems to make no difference on Opera), it's also a really handy content filter. And Flash degrades at least as nicely if not better than JavaScript on to systems which don't deal well with it, partially because over wireless and similar links the browser can decide not to download it.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:37+00 by: Larry Burton

>> I do need to come up with some more content for that side so it doesn't just peter off after a little bit.

I was thinking there was a way to allow text to "wrap" around that box. I know I've seen that done somewhere.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:37+00 by: Dan Lyke

I can wrap text around that box, but if I do that I can't make the "subject/who posted/comments" block align right against it unless the body of the comment entry is long enough to force it over.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:37+00 by: other_todd

I think Sturgeon's Law applies to graphic design just as it does to anything else. Edward Tufte is my idea of a graphic designer. He is devoted to the principle that sometimes a picture IS more efficient than a thousand words. There are others like him. Some even work in actual graphic-design type jobs. But not many.

I chose a design for a portion of my personal site which drives people crazy. I didn't do this on purpose; I just got bored with using the same schema every day. I then went to the trouble of setting up a CGI so that people could play with the designs themselves, SHOW me what they didn't like about specific colors/layouts, and suggest what they'd like better. So far I have gotten two responses in that vein, as opposed to twenty or thirty complaints about the more controversial schemes. So I would meekly suggest that one problem with current graphic design is that even when the readers/viewers hate it, they usually don't bother to say so, or even to vote with their feet. Companies WOULD redesign their ads if they felt that the majority of readers hated the ads - but they have to be told that with a sufficiently large 2 x 4.